I like cats. I had three young cats living with me at one point, and they were some of the smartest, trickiest creatures I’ve ever met (one loved to play fetch with a rabbit’s foot keychain, another enjoyed tapping people on the shoulder from behind and then running away before the victim could turn around to see what was behind them, and both had figured out how to open doors). So, I have been eagerly following Breaking Cat News because I can easily see exactly this kind of thing happening with the three cats I knew, although my three would have been more likely to run an underground pirate radio station. Georgia?
BC: Who are you?
GD: I’m Georgia Dunn, the cartoonist behind ‘Breaking Cat News.’ I like to think of myself as the head of the world’s most adorable media network.
BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
GD: I was born and raised in a small town by the sea in Rhode Island. It was filled with forests and I spent a lot of my childhood playing in the woods and writing stories. I loved comics, and read them voraciously. I have a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Rhode Island. These days I live outside of Seattle, WA, with my husband, our three year-old son, one year-old daughter, and three cats. During the day I’m home with our children, and at night I work on Breaking Cat News.
BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
GD: My background was originally in illustrating, but I’ve been working on one comic strip or another since I was a kid. I was always trying to break into illustrating children’s books and slowly comics took over, which has been a pretty terrific turn of events. A lot of readers often comment that the art in BCN looks like the pages of a storybook, and that’s not far from the truth. So… A little bit of an illustrator, a little bit of a cartoonist, and a little bit of a writer, too. The writing part is crucial, I don’t think my strip would be the same if I hadn’t spent a lot of years churning out stories.
BC: How did you get your start as an illustooner?
GD: I started writing stories with a group of friends in sixth grade, and that took over the rest of my life pretty quick. High school turned into trying to get into the best English classes I could and doubling up on extra art classes instead of having study hall breaks. College started off with me getting into the URI journalism program (ironic, right?) for writing, and then switching to art and illustrating by the end of my freshman year. From middle school, to high school, to college, and beyond, my nightly schedule has been fairly consistent. I begin working on whatever current project I have on my plate around 7 pm and wrap up work around 1-2am. Sometimes it is writing, sometimes it’s painting, or an outline, maybe a series of jokes–the work changes and it stays interesting, thankfully! Since having children, I’ve tried to roll my bedtime back to 11:30-midnight, with mixed results. I’m incredibly lucky that both of my little kiddos are good sleepers and my husband supports my work and gets up with the kids at night when I am against deadlines.
BC: How long have you been at this, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
GD: My first webcomic ‘The Quote Book’ started in 2007, and my second comic ‘Swan Eaters’ came along in 2011. Neither was very successful, but they each earned a small loyal following. When ‘Breaking Cat News’ began in 2014, readers from both of these comics immediately shared the first few strips. They tweeted, they posted on Reddit. ThinkGeek ended up retweeting the BCN strip about bacon, and my editor at GoComics found BCN on Reddit. These were huge breaks for me, and I’m very grateful to the people who have followed my work all these years and took the time to share it with others. Getting syndicated at GoComics in October, 2014, was the biggest break I’ve had so far. They offered me a development deal with newspapers and a book deal shortly after. They have been incredibly helpful; they made a lot of good things happen very quickly. I worked mostly alone at night–every night–for about 20 years, and once ‘Breaking Cat News’ began to take off, so many things fell into place. Syndication was a big part of that.
BC: What led up to your starting Breaking Cat News, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
GD: Total disaster, haha! My husband lost his job, we had to sell our house, we were preparing to move 3,000 miles back to our hometown to start over, and one night in the middle of the whole mess our cat Lupin knocked everything off a shelf. When our cats Elvis and Puck rushed over to tell us/supervise the clean up in that way that cats do, I started cracking jokes that they were old timey reporters. It was the worst possible time to start a new webcomic, but the more I shared sketches of the jokes, the more people responded positively. It felt like a really fun idea, and I couldn’t stop coming up with headlines. I checked if the domain name was available, and I let that make the decision for me. It was, so despite all the upheaval going on in our lives, I was just honest with readers and put the comic on pause whenever we had to move, as we chased work back and forth across the country for a couple of years. Now, recently, we’re back in Washington and things are more stable, thank goodness.
GD: I always have a few projects simmering on the back burner. I’d love to go back and wrap up my web comic ‘Swan Eaters’ one day. It was about witches and monsters and a traveling gypsy family in the 1940s, and it paused on a cliff hanger when my son was born in 2013. A friend and I have been drafting a children’s book this year. And my husband, our friends, and I staged a Halloween-themed video game marathon in 2012 and 2013 to raise money for cancer research, and we’re working to bring it back in 2017. It’s called Nightmarathon.
BC: Which of your works are you most proud of?
GD: Breaking Cat News, without a doubt. It’s not easy to write all-ages humor, and I try very hard to make the comic genuinely, unexpectedly laugh out-loud funny. I want children and old people to love it. I want your cheery co-worker and your most cynical friend from college to love it. And it’s a very warm, positive comic. I’m happy that of everything I’ve worked on, this is the thing that caught on. When I think about working on it for years to come, I can’t wait. It’s a lot of fun to write and it’s forced me to focus on good things and find humor during bad times, whatever is happening in the world or in my life, and that’s a good job to have.
BC: BCN is in re-runs on GoComics now. Is that going to change in the future with new strips? What can we expect in terms of new storylines?
GD: We’re still working on what that will look like, but right now we’re thinking that we’re going to leave the web archives up on GoComics and the original site, with new strips beginning around the newspaper launch in March. Readers have been so patient, and I hate to say there won’t be new strips until March, but it really helps me to build a backlog behind the scenes. I never had that before, I was painting 95% of the strips the night before and scrambling to post them in the middle of the night. So, the wait until March will really be helpful to ensure BCN continues strong… Plus, I may have a couple of surprises planned before then, too…
GD: In terms of new storylines, we’ll be expanding the world a bit from the beginning. I have a chance to go back and add things I wanted before that somehow did not happen. For example, I always meant for the vacuum and the mysterious red dot to be more of villains, but the strips got away from me and I wasn’t able to establish them as repeat characters as much as I wanted. We’ll be introducing the comic to new readers, and so in the beginning there will be a lot of strips we revisit. The art is updated and in a few places I’ve elaborated. For instance, in the first six weeks of the newspaper strips readers will see the first time any of the cats spotted Tommy in the backyard. We started off in another apartment in the original comic, and we do this time, too. Readers will be there when the Man and the Woman find out they got the apartment in “The Big Pink House,” and I’m hoping the move will have more meaning for long-time readers this time around. New folks will have the strips about box forts and riding in the car, and long-time readers will have strips describing the setting a little more. The Big Pink House has become a character in its own way, and long-time readers will see more of it in the beginning than I gave them before. That’s a good example of how the comic will come together at first. As we continue, there will be a visit to the BCN archives to see Lupin’s job interview with the station when he first started out. We’ll learn more about Sir Figaro Newton (who really, readers don’t know a lot about yet, even after all this time) and I hope to go into Natasha’s history and how she came to be in the Robber Mice gang. She hinted this summer that “her mice are not of these fields,” and that’s very true. As well as hard-hitting investigative reports about milk cap rings, sun prisms, bathroom countertops, and Elvis’ new nemesis–the Moon.
BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next headline?
GD: If people see me out on the streets, I look like a crazy person. I’m one of those people who is usually muttering and laughing to myself. I approach 80% of the strips by just bouncing dialogue around in my head and imagining the characters talking to each other. When a line strikes me, I scribble it down or I type it into my phone. If a strip or storyline is action heavy vs talking, I let my mind wander while listening to music. Playing pretend is a big part of my writing/drawing process; I’m usually thinking of the characters reacting to things. And of course, it helps that the characters are all based on real cats and I can observe new stories and headlines play out in real life, too.
BC: In what media?
GD: I work in ink and watercolor on paper and then scan my work.
BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be/sound like?
GD: A lot of classic rock, probably, cut with the usual nightly news sounds and jingles. The Robber Mice causing trouble to ‘Thin Lizzy’, Elvis angrily investigating an empty food bowl to The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again,’ Tommy running through the backyard to ELO, Lupin adventuring under the cabinets to ‘Queen’ and ‘Frank Zappa’, Puck climbing a laundry pile to David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, etc.
GD: I write a lot of the BCN specials to music. This summer I wrote a special about the Robber Mice and an old owl, and most of the special was written while listening to Peter Gabriel’s ‘San Jacinto’ and Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ over and over. A lot of the characters or their relationships to each other have songs in my head. Kit Chase, the star of the cat soap opera in the comic, is written to a lot of Childish Gambino tracks. ‘Watch Me Impress You’ by Hot Dad is a song I listen to when I write Tommy and Sophie storylines, because he is so happy and so hopeful to win her friendship whatever apathy she throws his way. Music is a huge part of writing for me.
BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them?
GD: It’s hard to narrow it down… Bill Watterson, Gary Larson, Sam Kieth, Tony DiTerlizzi, Jim Henson, and Frank Frazetta for sure. And James Howe (as I pulled on my Bunnicula tee-shirt this morning, I realized he is definitely up there too). I’ve never met any of them (sadly two obviously have passed on) but I sent Tony DiTerlizzi a letter once when I was right out of college and experiencing a lot of rejection from publishers. It was sort of a “do you have any advice for young illustrators?” kind of letter, I think I sounded a little sad writing it because he wrote me back a very warm, encouraging reply. I still have it. I’ve read that Gary Larson lives in Washington, too, and I’m always hoping we’ll somehow run into each other randomly. Like, I’ll come around an aisle at the grocery store covered in cats and see a man dressed like a cow wheeling a shopping cart full of bugs. …That’s pretty close to what I hope for, really.
BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
GD: I enjoy Nedroid, Poorly Drawn Lines, Perry Bible Fellowship, Sarah’s Scribbles, Catbeard the Pirate (Matt Nelson just invited me to write the intro for his first book, actually!) and Phoebe and Her Unicorn! My kids are pretty crazy for Phoebe and Her Unicorn, too, which is kind of extra amazing because Dana and I met this summer and she’s become a fast friend and great comfort as I’ve been getting BCN ready for papers. She gets what I’ve been going through and can offer me insight and kind words. She is just as magical in real life as you would hope Marigold’s creator would be!
BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
GD: It depends, but if the humor sort of catches you completely off-guard or has an unusual pacing, that seems to strike my fancy a lot. And then with some comics like ‘Calvin and Hobbes’, ‘Cul de Sac,’ ‘Foxtrot,’ or ‘Phoebe and her Unicorn,’ it’s very much the characters and watching how they interact with one another. A great comic feels like visiting an old friend.
BC: I’ve asked a couple other artists about Cul de Sac before. Richard Thompson seems to be a very polarizing artist. Readers either hate him or love him. What attracts you to his strips?
GD: I’m in the love category. I’m new to his work, admittedly. My editor, who also happened to be his editor, introduced me to his work a couple of years back. For someone who works in inks and watercolors it was love at first sight. His line work, the energy in his sketches, and the warmth in his storylines and dialogue are all amazing. One of the unexpected perks of working with GoComics–and really, my editor–is that I’ve been lucky enough to be introduced to some of my comics heroes. I’ve met Nick Galifianakis, Bill Amend, and Dana Simpson and they have all been terrifically kind and welcoming to a new cartoonist, and answered my questions and given me advice. And thinking of that, I will always be saddened that I did not have a chance to somehow meet Richard, from what I hear he was as amazing as his work.
BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
GD: Characters draw me in the most, but the cartoonist’s personality interests me a lot, too. I think the best comics reflect the person working on them. It’s a really intimate medium; you’re doing your best to show someone what you are thinking as it plays out in your head and relying on their imagination to follow your cues. However sophisticated it gets, I think the best comics always still very much feel like they started in a notebook somewhere, be it paper or laptop.
BC: If you went back and started BCN over again, is there anything you’d want to change? Any advice you’d give yourself?
GD: It’s tough to say… It all took off so fast, and I was lucky to have it get as popular as it did when it did. So, I hesitate to wish I could have changed the timing–but if I could have known, say, a year in advance, I would have loved a backlog or a buffer of maybe six months of strips. I had that with ‘The Quote Book’ and ‘Swan Eaters,’ and ‘Breaking Cat News’ just rocketed out of nowhere and there was no time to prepare a buffer, especially with two tiny kids. The advice I’d give myself came later from Dana, and that was to let negative comments online fall away and give the good ones more weight.
BC: How close are the personalities of the BCN cast to that of their real-world inspirations?
GD: Very close! That helps me when writing them, because if I get stuck I can try to imagine how the real cat would actually react in a similar situation. I get asked a lot if Elvis really is that intense, and any of our house guests can tell you… Yes. Tabitha is a bit more of a sweetheart in real life. I mixed her personality with a couple of Alpha females I had as a child. And readers may be bummed to know that Puck is a little more rough and tumble in real life–he is a sensitive, sweet kitty, but he is the first to defend our home from any outsiders (spiders, flies, etc). Although, that comes out in the comic sometimes when he is the first to fight the electric razor to save the Man, so maybe they already sensed that….
GD: Tommy is even nicer in real life. Tommy is an outstanding cat. Though, in real life–and anyone who has seen a photo of him knows this–he looks a lot like an angry owl! Ha!! He is a total sweetie puff, though.
BC: Do you really have a Mexican cat crew living above you? Do they really have better production values than the BCN guys?
GD: Tabitha and Figaro are a mix of fact and fiction! The truth: They really did live in the Big Pink House (which is a real house in Rhode Island) in another apartment. They are good buddies, and awesome cats. Tabitha is clever and loves to drink cereal milk. Figaro is very friendly (he made our son’s day by gently head butting him once, ha!) he is incredibly sweet. The fiction: They lived below us, in real life Elvis, Puck, and Lupin were the ceiling cats. And their household is not Mexican in real life. For some time I had wanted to create a rival Spanish channel with a very capable lead lady anchor. I wanted it to be kind of like when you’re flipping through channels and happening upon another broadcast in a different language. They would sometimes be reporting on the same story, but from slightly different perspectives. When my friend moved into the apartment building and brought Tabitha and Figaro, I asked her if she would mind me basing a couple of BCN characters on her kitties, and she was kind enough to let me. When you see the Gatos de Noticias news crew and their People in the comic, my reasoning is that Tabitha and Figaro are two Spanish-speaking kitties who have been adopted by English-speaking People. They’re a blended family in the comic, and Tabitha is the only one in the household who understands everyone. The GN news team is meant to have nicer production values in part because Tabitha is very detail-oriented and one way I can show that to the reader at a glance is for their station to be managed just a little bit better. She is definitely making sure things run smooth and possibly taking on a little too much, but while Elvis would melt down under stress, Tabitha thrives on it.
BC: Who is running the cameras when all three cats are in front of the lens?
GD: Until Burt, the boys just have cameras running on self-timers, and the production value is pretty low at CN News. Once Burt comes into the story (and I’ve seen a reader refer to older strips as “BB–before Burt–strips,” and this is an excellent way to think of it) the station quality overall really improves. This was a way for me to explain why I was getting better at making the stories look more “news-y” and why things were starting to look better overall. Originally, I tried to write BCN like three cats inside an apartment who are secretly broadcasting news online–through the actual BCN website to the “viewers” who are of course, the readers. There’s an element of playing pretend for all of us; me writing it and viewers ‘watching’ it, or at least, that’s what I hoped for. Things sometimes went wrong on purpose; the teleprompter was an old model that only picked up vocals but didn’t explain tone and so Lupin (who is deaf) is occasionally left out of the loop, as the cricket strip finally explained. An unspoken piece to this is that my husband (the Man) is a video editor in real life; that’s his career. And so we often have weird old pieces of AV equipment around that he is in the middle of refurbishing (a hobby of his). We have a green screen kit. We have multiple microphones and a simple sound board. These are things the cats are really around a lot, and so I didn’t have to stretch my imagination much to think that when we weren’t paying attention they were live-streaming the news to cats all over the world.
GD: And readers ask all the time who “Camera One” is, and that will be revealed in the new strips at some point.
BC: Is it true that one of the cats is missing a leg? Is this ever going to turn into a Breaking Story itself?
GD: Yes, Puck is missing his hind foot. I debate going into it too much in the comic; in real life it is a sad-but-awesome story. Basically there were two neighbors; one (neighbor A) had a litter of kittens in their backyard and one (neighbor B) would sometimes watch the kittens play over their fence. One day, neighbor B noticed that one of them was terribly injured (the theory from our vet is that a predator bird attacked him). They waited for neighbor A to take the kitten to the vet, but it became clear they had decided to “let nature take its course” and were doing nothing to help the injured kitten. When neighbor B checked again a day or so later, the kitten was laying in the grass, not moving. And so neighbor B catnapped the kitten and took him to the vet. Puck’s leg was half torn off, and from the neglect an infection had spread. His leg had to be amputated to the hip. A shelter here in Washington called ‘Purrfect Pals’ has a special fund for cats in need of surgery, and they saved him. He recovered with a loving foster Mom named Sue and we were lucky enough to adopt him when he was 12 weeks old. Now–that’s a pretty great story about someone stepping in to do the right thing, and that’s why I try to tell it as often as I can… but I’m not sure if it will ever make its way into the comic. Maybe as a special report about bringing animals to receive vet care. It would be a hard thing to write, I think about drawing baby Puck laying in the grass and I pretty much never want to stop crying. I won’t say never though. In the comic, I may possibly find a different explanation for Puck’s leg, too; you never know.
BC: Some of the stories have revolved around cat rescues. Is this something you’re active in yourself?
GD: In so much that I try to encourage folks to adopt from shelters, and to give thought to adopting older cats, black cats, and cats with special needs in particular. I wrote a special report on this, which can be found on the original BCN site here, and there’s a poster of it over on Topataco. My husband and I have dreams of adopting an older kitty or two every few years to live their lives out in spoiled comfort, one day when we own a house and know we will not be moving for a long time. Puck and Lupin were both rescues and special needs kitties, (Puck with his missing foot and Lupin is deaf) and they’re awesome cats. Tommy’s real life Woman works with animal shelters as a manager, and I hate to say the amazing shelter she was working with recently had to close due to lack of funding. If you’re in the Massachusetts or Rhode Island area and you are looking to hire the best dang animal shelter manager ever, she’s looking for her next place to work her magic!
BC: How did you come about obtaining your three real-world cats? Are there any stories behind that, or anything the three cats have done in real-life that make for good stories?
GD: Elvis was adopted from a man in Massachusetts, and a friend of mine owns his very mellow brother, Merlin, and his very clever sister, Hazel. From the start, he was an intense cat. My sister and I were told he bit most of the other people who came to look at the kittens. Yet, when I picked him up, he touched my face, settled onto my chest, and fell asleep with a relieved sigh. I’ve had him since. He dislikes most people (it took my husband about a year to fully win him over) but somehow he is very loyal to me, which I am thankful for and humbled by. I like to say, “he’s a great cat, if you’re me.” He is endlessly patient and very good with our children, too, which was a pleasant surprise. Puck and Lupin were both rescues from Purrfect Pals in Washington state. They both had rough starts, and yet they’re tremendously friendly, sweet cats. Lupin was found by a realtor with his siblings locked in a closet in an empty apartment. They were all only a few weeks old. From the conditions, Lupin had a fever that cost him the tip of his tail and his hearing. (While many white cats are born deaf, Lupin has green eyes, not blue, and all of his siblings could hear. So it is believed by our vet that he lost his hearing from this terrible fever, rather than it being genetic). He survived, thanks to the love and care from his foster Mom Ruth, and we adopted him when he was about 10-12 weeks old. Before we adopted him, Lupin participated in a program at the shelter where he went out to area schools and events to raise awareness about adoption, and we credit his SUPER outgoing, travel-loving personality to this. He greets every house guest, handy man, and mail carrier as a life long friend. It’s a big reason why he is the anchor cat on BCN.
BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter? How do you think they are changing the face of webcartooning? Do you want to plug your site?
GD: We’re working on a Patreon right now, actually, this week! Readers have been requesting one almost daily for the last six months, I’m grateful that they’ve been patient! I have not used Kickstarter yet, but sometimes I think maybe I will one day if I ever want to possibly fund plushies, fancier prints, etc. I think they’re terrific for webcartooning. The more that someone can get their work out to the world and in front of an audience, the better. I really think there is an audience for everyone, the tricky bit is just to find them. That’s one of the nicest things about the online world; however odd you think you may be, there are a bunch of awesome people ready to embrace your oddness. I didn’t think my job would one day be writing the daily broadcasts of a cat news station. I’m so happy this is something people wanted, because it’s so much fun to create. And the audience for something like that is everything. Patreon and Kickstarter connect a creator and an audience and give everyone a chance to be a part of creating the work. It’s awesome.
BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
GD: We only moved back to Washington in August, so I have been laying low for a bit and helping my kiddos and the cats adjust. I would love to start scheduling some appearances soon though; I enjoyed the ones I made in California this summer.
BC: If Elvis, Puck and Lupin got into a karaoke contest, who would win?
GD: Lupin, paws down. He is a VERY loud cat, and he loves to serenade us in the middle of the night. His personality is really outgoing and entertaining, too; he would work the crowd. Puck might come in a close second, he has a sweet sing-songy meow, especially if food is up for grabs. Poor Elvis would probably get a hot mic; he has a very strange, raspy not-quite-an-actual-meow-more-like-a-yell meow.
(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Georgia Dunn © 2016.)
(This interview is the copyright © of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2016. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)
Poll: Do you have a cat news network in your home?